• Nestor, A., Behrmann, M., and Plaut, D.C. (2013). The neural basis of visual word form processing: A multivariate investigation. Cerebral Cortex, 23, 1673-1684.

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    Abstract: Current research on the neurobiological bases of reading points to the privileged role of a ventral cortical network in visual word processing. However, the properties of this network and, in particular, its selectivity for orthographic stimuli such as words and pseudowords remain topics of significant debate. Here, we approached this issue from a novel perspective by applying pattern-based analyses to functional magnetic resonance imaging data. Specifically, we examined if, where and how orthographic stimuli elicit distinct patterns of activation in the human cortex. First, at the category level, multivariate mapping found extensive sensitivity throughout the ventral cortex for words relative to false-font strings. Second, at the identity level, multi-voxel pattern classification provided direct evidence that different pseudowords are encoded by distinct neural patterns. Third, a comparison of pseudoword and face identification revealed that both stimulus types exploit common neural resources within the ventral cortical network. These results provide novel evidence regarding the involvement of the left ventral cortex in orthographic stimulus processing and shed light on its selectivity and discriminability profile. In particular, our findings support the existence of sublexical orthographic representations within the left ventral cortex while arguing for the continuity of reading with other visual recognition skills.

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